République is still a work in progress. Although the restaurant, a collaboration between restaurateur Bill Chait and chefs Walter and Margarita Manzke, has now been officially open for a couple of weeks, it isn't quite yet fully formed. The bustling glassed-in front area, which serves as a more casual bistro, is in full swing. Still to come is morning cafe and bakery service, as well as a more formal area in back, which should be open early next year.
With that in mind, our official review of the restaurant won't come along until we've had a chance to consider the whole, not just République's early iteration. But, being as curious as the next restaurant obsessive, we decided to take an early peek at what has probably been the most anticipated opening of 2013.
The former Campanile space on La Brea looks luminous with its new build-out. The front has been glassed in to make the best use of the square footage, allowing seating along the entire front section of the restaurant. The view of the soaring, dramatic space from these bench seats is quite lovely.
For folks who adored Walter Manzke's work at Church & State, there's a lot at République to be happy about. Many of the same bistro classics that made Manzke's time at that downtown restaurant so successful show up on the large menu here.
Already, the charcuterie at République is up there with some of the best in the city, particularly the more rustic pâtés. The charcuterie board comes with a small pot of pork rillettes, two cured sausages, head cheese, those rustic pâtés and a serving of silky duck liver mousse.
There are escargots en croute, three wee porcelain cups bearing garlicky, buttery escargot and topped with puff pastry. You can get steak or moules frites, bouillabaisse, or a pig's-head fritter served with lentils and topped with a fried egg. A spaghetti rustichella was stunningly simple, with clams, garlic and chili flakes, but the slow burn of the chili and the perfect ratio of moisture to pasta made it a much more generous dish than it at first appeared.
It seems as though the Manzkes and company are looking to create a restaurant with multiple uses, appropriate for almost any dining need beyond fast food. And it already is serving some of that purpose — as a place to stop by and slurp oysters, or just grab a cocktail (I was particularly enamored of the Harvard, a wintery cognac drink with a gratifyingly bitter edge), République could work as the most casual night out.
But the flexible menu and extensive, alluring wine list make it a good option for a more serious dining experience as well. I'm assuming that Manzkes' creative side will come out with the more formal tasting menus to come, but for now his traditionalist takes on French classics are pretty swell.
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